Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Five versus Fifteen

I checked out audible.com this morning because I'm thinking about getting an MP3 player for the occasional air travel and for while I'm knitting. (I don't knit well enough to look away from it, so I can't watch tv or read while knitting as many knitters do.) However, I had a moment of shock when I read the Benefits of Membership page:

The average reader gets through only 5 books a year, but the average AudibleListener® member listens to 15 books a year.

Eek! Five books a year? I often get through 5 books a month, and sometimes 5 in a week. Getting all the way up to 15 books a year is something they are proud of?

More evidence that I'm an alien.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Extreme Sheepherding!

Using sheep as pixels, a bunch of Welsh shepherds made this video. Amazing!

Free range kids

Free range kids* are all the rage, and the commenting community at BoingBoing is up in arms about a 10-year-old kid getting picked up by the police because his mother let him walk half a mile to the soccer field instead of personally supervising him the entire way.

Some of the commenters are worried.
I really worry about a generation of kids that have never been allowed to run around without supervision. My niece (eleven years old) hasn't been able to roam as freely as I did when I was six and walked myself a half a mile to school. I went downhill after that, riding bikes with my friends or, gasp, even alone, miles away from my home with no supervision.

My niece is smart, aware, sarcastic and does great in school. But I can't help but fear what will happen when she is finally out of the bubble with so little experience at roaming free.

Many commenters tell stories about how tough and independent they were as children, and how awful it is that parents these days keep such a tight rein on their kids. What will become of these poor sheltered hothouse flowers when they get out into the real world?

There are a couple of easily-identified problems here: one is the vast excluded middle, and the other is the class question. Not that many parents actually schedule and supervise their children the way it is portrayed in, say, the New York Times' inflamatory articles about kids with soccer lessons, flute lessons, math tutoring, volunteer work, etc. every night after school for 4 hours and all day on the weekends. Nor do most parents *really* free range their kids (I mean, I only know one person who was arguably raised by wolves); they set boundaries, they provide a home and food and they teach their kids how to be independent before they set them free on the range to roam at will.

In fact I suspect it's mostly upper middle class (by income) and up who do it. The rest of us can't afford to, either in dollars spent on all those lessons or in parental time supervising.

Another issue is that a lot of the behaviors people proudly remember would be considered neglect under our changed societal standards for parents. Yeah, nothing happened, but if it had, how would a 10-year-old have coped? Yet another issue is that parents, knowing the societal standards for supervision, might hesitate to chance the interference of the government (in the form of Children's Services or such) in their lives, perhaps even the removal of the child for a short time while somebody who doesn't share their free range philosophy decides whether they're good parents.

It's amusing to see people displaying their outrage, exercising their feelings of superiority, and wagging their fingers at all the rest of us repressed, controlling parents. It's just not very connected to the reality I see in my neighborhood, either now or when my kids were little.

*I prefer mine in cages, doesn't everybody?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A good egg

Steve Martin is a good egg.

A high school in eastern Oregon planned to put on his play, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," until parents objected and the school board forbade it. The students raised local funds to do the play in an off-school venue, and Steve Martin read about it online. He's donating to the fund so that they can perform his play:

He said the offer was aimed at allowing people to determine whether they wanted to see the play, "even if they are under 18. I predict that the experience will not be damaging, but meaningful."

Martin said he could understand how some parents might object to their 16- or 17-year-olds delivering some lines, and he said whether the play should be presented at the high school itself "remains something to be determined by the community."

He said, though, that he believed young people could be inspired by seeing the play or, if permitted by parents, by performing in it, and that the La Grande student actors seemed to understand that the "questionable behavior sometimes evident in the play is not endorsed."

He said he disagreed strongly with local characterizations of the play as having to do with "people drinking in bars, and treating women as sex objects."

"With apologies to William Shakespeare," his letter said, "this is like calling Hamlet a play about a castle."

Friday, March 13, 2009


I mostly use blocks of solid colors in my life: my clothes are mostly solids, my home is decorated with solids. But the patterns at Pattern Pulp fascinate me. This blog documents and examines patterns in the world around us--store displays, clothing, wallpaper.

You can make your own patterns at Stripe Generator and Tartan Designer. I plan to use these for some of my knitting projects.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Being the Other

Feminist Mormon Housewives are discussing the HBO series "Big Love", which is about a family living in plural marriage--a fundamentalist sect of LDS. I left this comment:

As a Jew I think it would be wonderful if there were a major television show about Jews, treating them as normal people with normal problems and portraying something about daily life as a Jew, showing the variation in observances and the many different ways people live as Jews.

Choosing to portray members of the LDS as normal means you are not considered outsiders, weird, or alien. Very little of the show focuses on actual matters of faith and practice except the plural marriage principle, and even that is almost never explained, so the message I take from the show is that members of LDS are people just like me: they have problems with their kids, fights with parents, scheduling issues. They have dinner together, sometimes have trouble paying their bills, wonder whether they've made good decisions in their lives.

Try to remember the last time you saw Jews portrayed in the movies or on television. Now try to remember when you've seen them and it wasn't about the Holocaust: Jews portrayed as just regular folks with the same issues everybody else has, plus a few religion-specific ones. Not as victims (e.g., anything about the Munich Olympics or the Holocaust) or oppressors (e.g., anything about the Palestinians--and I'd like to remind everybody that not all Jews are Israeli, so why are all Jews held responsible for what happens in Israel?), just normal people with average lives.

That it can be done for LDS means you're considered part of the mainstream. That's a wonderful thing!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Managing my inputs

I've been reading a string of male-written SF novels lately, mostly military SF to boot, and the experience is reminding me why I've been focusing on women writers.

The books have been almost uniformly well written, exciting stories that I enjoy. Even more characterization than I expect from either male authors or military SF, but not so much as to take time away from chase scenes and battles. More than once I've had that bright feeling of discovery of talent and the pleasure of the unexpected.

But I started reading mostly women writers because I didn't like the effect on my perspective, on my world view, of reading male authors. In most of the books I've read by male authors, there are very few women (they certainly don't pass the Bechdel test). I don't exist, in these novels; I'm not even possible in some of them, there's no awareness of or place for a person like me in the worlds created by these authors.

While I'm sure there are some women authors of whose books this would also be true, it's not my experience. I can always find myself somewhere in the societies women write, at least so far.

I can't find myself in novels written by men, at least, not someone like me who is a woman: there are plenty of men I identify with in them, at least partly. But the attitudes toward women in most of them are destructive to my sense of self. This is already a world in which I struggle to exist as a woman, in which I deal with the subtle sexism in my own psyche as well as in the behavior of others, both as individuals and institutions.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A new quote

"There are four boxes to use in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, ammo. Use in that order." -- Ed Howdershelt (posted in a conversation about California's Proposition 8, which forbade gay marriage).